skip to Main Content

Game of Thrones: has this flawed, spectacular show become too big to fail?

The subtle manoeuvres of previous seasons have been replaced by logic-shredding show-stoppers – but it’s far too late to stop watching now

Warning: this article contains spoilers from Game of Thrones season seven, episode seven. Do not read on if you have not watched.

As season seven of Game Of Thrones has worn on, it has become a commonplace to note that the show’s hitherto subtle manoeuvres have been replaced with something more abrupt. Principals are brought together with clanging expedience; deaths that would once have been show-stopping, or at least episode-ending, instead simply herald an ad break; time flies, and so do ravens, at such speed and with such internet-era reliability that I keep expecting someone to set up an out-of-castle auto-bird before they hit the road. The story is getting bigger, yes. But it is not at all clear that it is getting better.

In feature-length finale The Dragon and the Wolf that tendency reached its apotheosis. At Westeros’ version of the Yalta conference in King’s Landing, we were allowed the deep satisfaction of seeing Cersei and Daenerys meet, and the pleasure of a dizzying number of smaller reunions on the sidelines – Bronn and Podrick, Bronn and Tyrion, Theon and Euron, Jaime and Brienne, Brienne and the Hound, and the Hound and the Mountain. I’m probably forgetting tons. These little, dopamine-providing pairings, each slightly recalling the witless fancy-that of Batman vs Superman or a moderately successful pop act getting back together, mostly feel like they bring resolutions rather than new possibilities. And most of the conversations they entail are expository synonyms for, ‘so, we meet again’. Still, it’s hard to complain: there is a lot of ground to be cleared before this story comes to an end, and I would prefer Pod and his gonzo mentor to have the chance for a quick pint than not.

We saw a dizzying number of small reunions on the sidelines, from Bronn and Tyrion to Jamie and Brienne. Photograph: HBO/2017 Home Box Office, Inc. All

What about Cersei, though? The queen might be mad, but she’s surely not a moron. One important feature of Machiavellianism is that sometimes the expedient thing also happens to be the right thing; unhinged dictators tend to retain their grip on the logic of self-preservation, a lesson that this show has relentlessly hammered home. And yet here she is, the mother of (dead) Lannisters, even as she caresses her pregnant belly and shows an otherworldly awareness of the dangers of fetal alcohol syndrome, concluding that she would rather stick one on her enemies than survive. Family First, that’s Cersei’s motto – except when the risk to her family is posed by an army of the dead who would turn her last and unborn child into an infant zombie.

And so, instead of heading north, she will enlist the support of the show’s own mercenaries and masters of the universe at the Iron Bank to bankroll her bonkers betrayal. For me, this decision was the moment that Game Of Thrones stretched disbelief past all possible suspension – and yet, here I still am, perplexingly enthralled; here, if you are reading this, you still are, too. We are invested now, and there is no backing out. Like the Iron Bank’s real world analogues, something deeply unhealthy but oddly sustaining has happened to this story: it has become too big to fail.

This isn’t even anyone’s fault, really. It’s mostly a symptom of vaulting ambition, and Game Of Thrones still goes wrong better than most TV shows succeed. And so we must prop it up, and take our returns where we can get them. When another pair of poster-children for incest consummate what looks like being a tragic love, or when a dead dragon spectacularly brings down the border wall (if it gets rebuilt, will Jon declare that he intends to make the White Walkers pay for it?), the merits of the show’s sweeping grandeur reassert themselves. As the first snows fall in the south, and those icy bastards trudge towards Winterfell, I cannot claim that I am willing to toss it all away – or that I don’t still love it. But as it stands, I fear that the last series will stand not as the multiplication of the story’s greatness, but its echo.

Source: Archie Bland (


Gunpowder review – it’s Game of Thrones minus dragons plus history

This Kit Harington-starring three-parter got off to an explosive start. It might might be historically accurate but did it need to be quite so gruesome?

Kit Harington is handsome, brooding and, as it happens, a descendant of Robert Catesby. Photograph: Robert Viglaski/BBC / Kudos

Bonus five-point question on last week’s University Challenge: Robert Catesby was the chief instigator of which abortive rebellion of the early 17th century? St Anne’s College Oxford didn’t know. The Monmouth Rebellion, they tried. Demonstrating that Oxbridge is full of dunces, but also that a lot of people don’t know very much about the Gunpowder Plot, which, of course, is the correct answer.

Don’t worry, remedial homework is now available, in the form of Ronan Bennett’s drama Gunpowder (BBC1 and the iPlayer). The first half hour is not the easiest of watches, tension followed by utter horribleness. Mass is being celebrated, illegally (it’s 1603), at a Catholic family’s manor house in Warwickshire. Dark dudes on horses show up, from the King (James I, you’ll know unless you’re at St Anne’s, duh!). All papist paraphernalia is swept away, priests bundled into chests and priest holes. Mass? What mass?

The search, led by Sir William Wade (splendidly and wickedly scary from Shaun Dooley, you can pretty much smell his rancid breath) is almost unbearable, a lesson in gradual tension build-up. Hell, I feel like I’m on that rack (which is yet to appear) myself. It seems they – the Catholics – might have got away with it, but then William orders measuring, inside and out, and starts to knock at the panelling, tap tap, tap tap, while the household (also this one) holds its breath, and Catesby’s sword hand twitches (even though his sword has been confiscated).

In the end they root out one young Jesuit, Father Daniel, from a chest, while Fathers Henry Garnet and John Gerard, both of whom will be implicated in the gunpowder plot that all this is heading towards, remain undiscovered in the priest hole (which seems remiss of Wade, given the anomalies in the measurements, inside and out).

Anyway, Daniel is carted off, along with the lady of the house, Dorothy, who assumes responsibility, to be slaughtered, immediately, publically, horribly. She, under a board, on to which weights are added slowly, on William’s orders, as the crowd cheers. Oh, and she’s naked. Again, it’s drawn out to breaking point – literally, she breaks. In the score, an ominous low note falls further, by a semitone, very much like in The Handmaid’s Tale, but in that it was used sparingly and was all the more powerful for it, whereas here it’s all the time.

It’s so full on there’s no time to let what just happened to Dorothy sink in. Because then young Daniel is dragged in, hanged, brought down while still alive, disemboweled (ditto), before being hacked to pieces.

Yeah, I know it’s what happened, and it’s part of the point, brutality over minor religious differences (the Catholics in Spain were no better) but there’s something about the relentlessness of it and the apparent relish with which it’s dished up (her nakedness, the baby held aloft to see Daniel’s demise) that I found a little bit too much.

It’s not just Kit Harington playing Catesby that gives Gunpowder a Game of Thronesy vibe. The violence, the swords, the darkness, the angry men – it’s GoT minus dragons plus history. Ah, and here’s King James on another kind of throne, the royal commode, with a servant to carry away the result. Game of stools.

Derek Riddell has fun as James, his camp court provides welcome relief. Harington – a descendant of Catesby, incidentally – broods and is handsome. Mark Gatiss as secretary of state Robert Cecil wears his head at an awkward angle, and somehow manages to out-evil Dooley’s Wade. Oh, and Liv Tyler’s in it too, but it’s not the most interesting of roles. Gunpowder is really about the chaps, steely chaps with swords and chains and torture machines. Guy Fawkes thus far is a dark, stabby character in the back alleys of Flanders. Seems we may have been burning the wrong guy – or were burning the wrong guy until Halloween eclipsed it all. Forget forget the fifth of November… perhaps this will help put that right.

It’s certainly historically fascinating, and genuine, in language as well. Potent and gripping too, it doesn’t feel like remedial homework at all. Parts two and three (of three) are already available, on the iPlayer. But I’m not quite ready, I need some respite, a breather, before being racked up again. I think I know where it’s going (I didn’t go to St Anne’s – or any other – College, Oxford). Plenty more blood and brutality to come, if not fireworks.

Source: Sam Wollaston (